What the world has to say about Army Worm Wine
Duluth News Tribune | 10.31.2002
by Candace Renalls | DNT
people react with a grimace and "Yuck!" Others are
willing to give it a try.
Ray Reigstad's latest experiment in home
winemaking—which took advantage of last summer's
forest tent caterpillar invasion— definitely gets a
they say they want some or they are completely
disgusted and say they would never taste it," he said.
Reigstad, you see, has made wine out of the dreaded
caterpillars commonly called army worms.
For many Northland residents, just the thought of such
a wine conjures up memories of millions of hairy,
squishy, dark green caterpillars defoliating trees and
bushes. And memories of masses of army worms crawling
up the sides of houses, marching down sidewalks and
parachuting from trees.
But in the crawly creatures, Reigstad saw potential.
After months of straining, fermenting and aging his
brew in the basement of his Lakeside home, his
11-gallon batch of army worm wine is ready.
"It's a white wine; I'd say it would go really good
with walleye or any seafood, but especially a
freshwater fish," Reigstad said.
A Blind Taste Test
Four local wine connoisseurs invited to taste the wine
described it as dry, pale and crisp. They compared it
to a pinot grigio or white bordeaux.
The comparison came before they were told exactly what
went into the wine. Afterward, they joked that it was
the best insect wine they've ever tasted. It's also
the only one they've ever tasted.
"I was surprised how similar it tastes to grape wine,
said Derek Mahle, the Duluth area distributor for
Quality Wine & Spirits in Bloomington, Minn.
"I've never heard of anything this bizarre," said Mark
Casper, owner of Keyport Liquor Outlet in Superior.
"If I was looking for a wine made from larvae, I'd
choose this," quipped Andrew Swanson of Fitger's Wine
Cellars in Duluth.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, all
three gave the wine a 7. All in all, a positive
An Experienced Winemaker
Reigstad, 36, is no novice when it comes to
winemaking. Serious about his hobby, he's been making
wine for 13 years.
Reigstad started making wine with his grandmother who
lived in southern Minnesota. They used rhubarb and
grapes from her gardens. When she died two years ago,
he continued the tradition in his own home.
Besides the usual grape wines, Reigstad has made wine
with grapefruit, dandelions, rhubarb, strawberries,
bananas, plums, blackberries and lilac blossoms.
Reigstad got the idea for army worm wine last year
from a co-worker who told him that his grandfather
used to make it. That got Reigstad thinking about how
it could be done since wine is typically made from a
fruit or flower.
"Army worms eat leaves," he reasoned. "So essentially
they're a combination of fruit and flowers."
For blueberry wine, Reigstad uses two pounds of
blueberries per gallon. For dandelion wine, he uses
six cups of dandelions per gallon. Because of their
density, he figured 1 pounds of worms per gallon would
"I had no idea what this was going to taste like," he
said. "I seriously didn't know how it would turn out."
A Simple Process
Reigstad and his girlfriend began by gathering forest
tent caterpillars in the Fish Lake area in mid-June.
They waited until the end of the caterpillars'
feasting cycle when they were big. Using a whisk
broom, they swept masses of worms from tree limbs into
clean 6-gallon plastic buckets. When they had about
seven pounds of worms in each bucket, Reigstad poured
boiling water on them, killing them instantly.
After removing debris that surfaced, Reigstad mashed
the army worms up a bit. He added sugar, campden
tablets, yeast and other ingredients before covering
the bucket and leaving it to ferment.
"It starts bubbling and smelling like rotting fruit,"
he said, explaining that that's normal.
At the end of a week, Reigstad scooped out the
caterpillars with a kitchen strainer and threw them
"Hold the strainer up and let it drip out to get the
full army worm flavor," he advised anyone planning to
replicate his wine.
The wine—which was a green liquid at this point—was
strained and funneled into 5-gallon glass jugs called
carboys, fitted with air-lock caps. The jugs were left
to ferment for three months, during which time they
were periodically strained. While most wines need to
be siphoned to a clean jug four or five times to clear
sediment, Reigstad only had to do it twice with army
"This army worm wine cleared real fast, like apple
wine," he said. "The clarity surprised me."
A Special Gift
After 4 months, the wine is ready to drink.
"It's good," Reigstad said. "For my taste, it's on the
sweet end. It tastes a little bit like rhubarb wine.
My grandmother and I used to make that."
Making army worm wine didn't come without its mishaps.
During fermentation, one jug's cap blew off and shot
wine all over Reigstad's basement.
"It was a mess," Reigstad recalled. "My brother said
it was the army worms' revenge."
His 11 gallons will yield about 70 25-ounce bottles of
wine, which he plans to give as Christmas presents.
Some lucky folks will get a bonus. Reigstad saved and
froze 30 large army worms to put in bottles, similar
to the worms put in some tequila bottles.
Who will get those bottles?
"Very special people," Reigstad said. "Not necessarily
people I like, but they'll be special in their own